Solar Energy Captured with New Transparent Device: Clear Views Through Windows

First Posted: Aug 20, 2014 12:58 PM EDT

Could you imagine a row of solar panels that also function as windows? Scientists may just have developed a new type of solar concentrator that when placed over a window creates solar energy while still allowing people to see outside.

The new solar concentrator is called a transparent luminescent solar concentrator. In theory, it can be used on buildings, cell phones and any other device that has a clear surface.

"No one wants to sit behind colored glass," said Richard Lunt, one of the researchers, in a news release. "It makes for a very colorful environment, like working in a disco. We take the approach where we actually make the luminescent active layer itself transparent."

The new system actually uses small organic molecules that can absorb specific nonvisible wavelengths of sunlight. In fact, the researchers can tune the materials to pick up just the ultraviolet and the near infrared wavelengths that then "glow" at another wavelength in the infrared. The "glowing" infrared light is guided to the edge of the plastic where it is then converted to electricity by thin strips of photovoltaic solar cells.

"Because the materials do not absorb or emit light in the visible spectrum, they look exceptionally transparent to the human eye," said Lunt. "It opens a lot of area to deploy solar energy in a non-instrusive way. It can be used on tall buildings with lots of windows or any kind of mobile device that demands high aesthetic quality like a phone or e-reader. Ultimately we want to make solar harvesting surfaces that you do not even know are there."

That said, a lot more work needs to be done in order to improve the new development's energy-producing efficiency. At the moment, it only produces a solar conversion efficiency of about one percent. Scientists hope to increase that to five percent when fully optimized.

The findings are published in the journal Advanced Optical Materials.

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